Pondicherry, located around 160km south of Chennai, was once the stronghold of the French in south India. While the British controlled the vast majority of territory and trade, their Gallic cousins established a series of enclaves around the southern coast of which Pondicherry is the best known and most visited. It is very much a town of contrasts- the French Quarter closest to the sea is characterized by leafy avenues, grand colonial buildings and some beautifully restored heritage villas- much of Pondicherry’s best accommodation is hidden away behind the high walls of these villas. Across the canal and away from the sea the Tamil Quarter is rather more typical of a small south Indian city but the on-going French influence is reflected here in some superb boutique shops (many of which sell goods produced at nearby Auroville), bakeries and cafés. The Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry draws devotees of this great Indian sage who lived in the city for the latter part of his earthly life. An associated project, Auroville, is located just outside Pondicherry- it is an experimental city which for over 40 years since its inception has sought to combine elements of spirituality, philosophy and sustainability into a workable international community.
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